It is a question that is hard to answer: What makes the 2023 Orioles so good in series-opening games?
As they get ready for their latest series-opener tonight – against the New York Yankees in the Bronx – the O’s are 13-2 in series opening games this season, tied for the best mark in the majors and they are 8-0 in such games on the road. The latest win was by 6-2 Friday at Toronto, and you can’t sweep a series without getting the first one and they did. Yet again.
According to Stats Perform, the team tied with the Orioles for best series-opening record won't shock you - the Rays. (Through Sunday's games)
Orioles, 13-2 (.867)
Tampa Bay, 13-2 (.867)
Atlanta, 12-3 (.800)
Chicago Cubs, 10-5 (.667)
Los Angeles Dodgers, 10-5 (.667)
O’s manager Brandon Hyde provided this answer over the weekend about the club’s success in series openers.
“I don’t know that we are doing anything differently than anybody else, but I do think we are prepared when we go into a series,” said Hyde. “Think our hitting guys do an amazing job with their advance meeting. As well as our advance team and coaches. I think our players are prepared when we go into a series, we know the opposing team well and our pitching guys do a great job along those lines as well.
“I don’t know if there are circumstances (causing that or helping that), but we’ve won the first game a lot. Hopefully we can keep that going.”
Since most series are three-games, the math tells us if you win the first one, you need to play only .500 ball the rest of the series to win a series and be playing .667 for that particular series. Do that enough times and you will be playing in October.
The Orioles are 11-3-1 in series this season, which breaks down to 5-1-1 in home series and 6-2 in road series. They are 3-2 in AL East series, winning their past three.
The Orioles are not winning these first games with exceptional offense or pitching, but just a solid overall effort it seems. In series-opening game team ERAs they rank eighth in MLB in 2023 at 3.60 per Stats Perform. The Cubs are first at 2.30 with Atlanta next at 2.47.
The team scoring the most in such games is the Los Angeles Dodgers at 6.87 runs per game followed by Atlanta at 6.33. The O's are tied for sixth at 5.47.
In run differential in those games, it goes this way:
+53 - Atlanta (95-42)
+38 - Cubs (73-35)
+ 35 - Tampa Bay (83-48)
+ 26 Orioles (82-56)
So, a 13-2 record in series openers means the Birds are 18-14 in the remaining games.
It is a formula that is working to the point that the Orioles at 31-16 (.660) have the second-best record in MLB.
Even if the players are not sure why the reason for the success. I asked Ryan Mountcastle if he could think of anything?
“Not really,” he said. “I don’t know, but winning the first game of the series is always huge. Just trying to win every series and at the end of the year it will add up to a really good record. Getting that first win is always huge.”
Said catcher James McCann: “I couldn’t tell you, there is nothing I can put my finger on. But we show up at the ballpark every day with the expectation of winning, whether it is the first game of the series, the middle game or the last one. You know it’s fun when you show up to the ballpark and that is the expectation - from player one to player 26, that we are going to win. All of our games, we’ve been in them, not many when we haven’t been.”
He added that the focus is on stacking series win on series win on series win.
“That is something we preach to each other, is win the series. And winning the first game is big for that series record, it sets you up for success,” said McCann.
And Tampa Bay added a win to its series-opening record, holding off a Toronto rally in the ninth last night to beat the Blue Jays 6-4. So, the Rays (35-14) are three games ahead of the Orioles now, two in the loss column.
Speaking of success: Shortstop Jackson Holliday, to no one's surprise, is the latest South Atlantic League Player of the Week. In five games last week for High-A Aberdeen, he batted .619 (13-for-21) with three doubles, three triples, two homers and 14 RBIs. He got one day off during the week but drove in at least one run in the other five games.
Holliday went 8-for-9 with six extra base hits and 11 RBIs in the first two games of that Winston-Salem series last Tuesday and Wednesday.
In 21 games with Aberdeen, he is batting .395/.505/.724/1.229 with 13 extra-base hits, 21 runs, eight steals and 20 RBIs.
For the year, between Low Single-A Delmarva and Aberdeen he is batting .394/.513/.701/1.214. Among all players at all minor league affiliates, per FanGraphs.com stats, he ranks first in OPS, second in OBP and fifth in average and slugging.
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